The same grizzly-wise relative who told me my father is a superstitious old grinne said to me on the phone last week, apropos of what I have mused upon;
“You have to make a decision to put a stop to having children at some point.”
“Women can spend their lives talking about poop and diapers and shit and it’s not that interesting.”
“You have to get your brains back and get on with your own life.”
I reached for the nearest pair of bundled up tube socks and stuffed them into my mouth, rather than say back:
He may have thought he was speaking on my father’s behalf; my father may have said to him that he fears I will go on having babies exponentially beyond what The Prince’s paycheck can endure; my father may have insinuated that the more babies I have, the less clear the distinction becomes between myself (and himself by association,) and the frumme; he may have said none of these things and the relative was simply taking the initiative to school me on what’s important for a woman in the modern world, which is most likely.
But I actually happen to really like this guy, and he happens to be a father himself, so I give him a break, because clearly, he is not well; it is more than evident that he has…
Well Intentioned Macho Arrogance, a qualifiable mental illness I made up, which, by the way, women can get, too.
In fact, I used to have it.
Ooooooohhhhh where do I begin … all right, how about with an apology long owed to Gingy, and you know who you are, you skinny little dish-towel; Gingy, I’m sorry I was an idiot but I was very, very sad.
About 100 years ago, when Gingy was first pregnant and I was chewing off my own leg in an alcoholic marriage, I wrote Gingy what I thought was a compelling, but was in retrospect only desperately jealous, email about why she must reject such bourgeoisie pressures as childrearing and instead use her Ivy-educated brain-powers for the advancement of the millions and billions of women withering worldwide under the oppression of their own offspring. Though the email itself is long lost thank god in a 3rd hand computer The Prince stripped of its hard drive eons ago, the pungently adolescent radicalism of its verbiage still singes the nose hairs on reflection.
In my own defense, Gingy did not tell me that she actually was pregnant at the time, only that she was thinking about getting pregnant; so she gets one fore-finger-from-thumb-flick between the eyebrows for side-swiping old Minky. Of course, Minky wasn’t so old then; it was actually just seven or eight years ago, not 100 (has my SSI check arrived yet, for cryin’ out loud? And get outta my yard, you kids!), but the future for Minky’s uterus was bleak.
My husband at the time, Killer, had made it redundantly and abundantly clear that we had not entered into marriage to pursue any such tasks so laborious, so to speak, as reproduction (especially as we had met working in a copy shop in the Village; the irony… deafening); rather, we got married so we could go on getting it on and drinking into the wee hours as continuously as possible before one or with any luck both of us departed the firmament for points west.
I pined for a baby so badly I couldn’t even tell myself. I used to sit with my madly beloved friend, the fabulously talented actress Kelly Kay Griffith, on a bench in front of the first hip coffee shop on Smith Street in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, watching all the arty-style yuppies walk by with their little kids named things like Chloe and Piper and Hamden and Corliss and Kennedy and Henry and god-knows-what-all affected bullshit in some new-money-lefty conflicted ambition of WASPitude-driven granolaship, and I would say;
“I hate children. I HATE them. I’m not kidding, Kelly. I hate them.”
“Really?” she would say back to me, sucking a cigarette and without the slightest mockery.
“Really,” I would say, staring down any 3-year-old that dared look my way. Then she and I would smoke some more, complain about our art – my writing and her acting – complain about our mothers, our metabolisms, our men; she, too, was stuck in a perversely compelling relationship which was rapidly becoming more perverse and less compelling. Kelly didn’t have the baby bug yet but she knew I had it, and was much too kind to say so; also, I was a crazy person running around talking about kid-hatred, so she was reasonably afraid of me.
Separated for the 3rd time, I asked my Killer to have lunch with me. “Is there any chance,” I whispered over $12 Smith Street hamburgers, as if my reputation would be jeopardized were I heard, “that if we got back together, we could have a baby?”
“No,” he said, biting into the beef. “Besides, you only want one because your friends are having them.”
Ow. OW! He meant Gingy, and another friend at the time, The Philosopher Mom. I didn’t entirely blame him; what had I ever done to make him think I was sincere about family? Smoke and drink? Leave the marriage three times? Anyway we seemed to finally believe each other after that, and parted ways.
And I began, as I’ve written before, to search for a baby-friendly husband in earnest, and despite my most self-destructive efforts, found The Prince, who begot M, followed by Little H, and here we are, rattling down the road with Papa the Red in tow.
So am I doing something criminal, that would inspire this first of comments by my relative, this apparent urgency of making “a decision to put a stop to having children.” Am I a dog? Am I having litters? Am I on the dole? Why don’t I go get sterilized, for christ’s sake.
But before I do, let me invoke the Philosopher Mom. When we were 19 and knew everything, she said, ”I don’t want to just fall into something, I want to make decisions.” I never let her forget it; in fact I would say I stuck it to her for the next nearly 20 years. And that’s because I wanted to make decisions, too, always have. And I wanted her to go on wanting to make them with me. I wanted to be affirmed in my fantasies of control, is that so wrong?
Wrong, shlong, she wasn’t one to bullshit; where babies are concerned, she realized on having her own, then advised, throw your decisions out with the bathwater, and I’ve come to agree. The babies are the new sheriff in town, are they not?
Whether it’s peanut butter vs cream cheese, nursies vs the powdered stuff, getting out the door in time for Mommy-n-Me vs calling it quits for the day at 9 a.m. and staying in to play with trucks for the next 11 hours, these tiny little schizophrenic martians don’t seem to speak the language yet will tell you in no uncertain terms:
I’m not eating that
I’m not shitting in there
I’m not going to sleep
I’m not staying asleep
I’m not being quiet
and I’m not going to behave as you would like me to now or for the next dozen years, because I have ONE item on my agenda, lady, and that’s keepin’ your ass right here next to mine every minute, every second that I can, whatever it takes, because I LOVE YOU, MOMMY.
Never, in fact, have I been so loved, nor have I loved so much. I even, I especially, love delivering; I’m great at it; I squirt ‘em right out au naturale, no dope, no nothin’; in fact I know if I could do just one more, it would be absolutely perfect. And after my euphoric deliveries, the actual children make me happier than I thought humanly possible. Why would I want this to end?
And whether I stick with two or have ten more, I don’t, FYI, actually have to make a decision about it; it’ll get made. And the irony is, if I do my job right, then sooner or later, the kids will leave me, and even if I have 20 of them, it will break my heart.
As for "not that interesting…" according to whom? Members of the Letters-After-My-Name-and-a-Fat-Paycheck Society? They have clearly not met my children, the poor deprived dears. You know, my kids are not a hobby. They’re not a right of passage. They’re not items to cross off the To Do list. They are human beings and I’m in love with their health, their minds, and their feelings, with every investable atom of energy I can muster; that’s my purpose, because I’m their mother. What, WHAT, is more interesting than my children? And never mind MY children, what about YOUR children? YOUR children are the center of YOUR universe, smart guy! You needed ME to tell you this???
If you did, then forget it; you’re a day late and a dollar short. Go read The Times and pat yourself on the head.
Maybe I’m really trying to talk about some kind of liberation. I’ve never heard of another endeavor that begins so selfishly; “I want a baby. I WANT ONE!” and proceeds so selflessly.
Begin with the body; goodbye, vanity! Never mind the few moms (though in our envy they seem ubiquitous) who gain a total of 18 pounds with each baby, lose it during delivery, and scamper home wearing their pre-pregnancy jeans. As for the rest of us, packing up those skinny clothes for the thrift shop and scooping our boobs off our knees, it's bon voyage to the bodies we knew; this body is not really ours any more, anyway. It's baby’s first fort, first food source, first home of the soul. Wouldn’t you trade your old waistline in a tiny heartbeat for the the sight of your toddler running from insult and injury to the solace of your legs and face-first into your crotch? I would. I do! And even if we didn’t want to trade, too bad! Too late!
Au revoire, too, to control of all kinds. First of all, what does that expression mean, ‘save money’? And what time are we leaving? When they wake up from nap! What’s for dinner? Cereal, at Minky's! And how does she get her kids to eat vegetables? How does she keep them so clean? Why are they so well behaved? I didn’t get to the laundry today. Didn’t get to the gym. Haven’t had a haircut in two years or remembered to kiss my husband when he first walks in. Sex life? Ha HA! They sleep in my room! And as for the floor? This place looks like a staging of a Fisher Price war. Pick up his own toys? Sleep through the night? Not raise my voice? No sugar? Yea, right…
…and my all time favorite, “I will never use bribery.”
Let it go, baby… let it go. You’re doing the best you can. I know I am, and you look as wasted as me.
And strung out as I may be from getting no sleep ever, I’m on the most intense learning curve of my life; my brain crackles with appetite and electrifying discoveries all the time; I am a scientist of M and Little H! I read books, articles, blogs, and more importantly, I talk to other mothers, who are the one true source, and you know what? I learn things! Imagine! Learning from a mother!
Not that it’s of any interest to my relative, but I happen to be getting on with my life, and at breakneck speed. I just shot out two kids in two years, old man, and I have never been a more terrific lady than I am right now.
But no matter how good or lousy I may be, and believe me I leap the spectrum from one day to the next, circumstances will dictate. And The Practical Prince will have his say. We’re civilized. We’re also on a shoe-string-french-fry budget.